Collecting is not a new hobby — there were cavemen and even birds that saw unusual or attractive items and took them “home” to save.

Ancient Romans collected coins and pottery and one emperor had a bedroom filled with treasures from Greece. By the time of the Renaissance, there were “wonder cabinets,” and the rich and the royal had galleries to display their paintings and statuary. Collectors from every century have had problems of storage, display and inventory records.

During the 18th century, European and American collectibles like coins, mineral specimens and small pieces of pottery and glass were displayed in a large piece of wooden furniture, usually a combination bookcase and cabinet. They had both shelves and special shallow drawers, divided into small sections.

A Southern auction house recently sold a Federal carved mahogany piece of antique furniture with shelves in the top section, and a writing desk over specimen drawers below. Doors with panes of glass cover the upper shelves and wooden doors hide the lower section’s storage. It was made in Philadelphia in 1807. The piece is 93 inches high, so it can just fit under the average 8-foot-high ceiling if there is no carpet on the floor. Estimated at $3,000 to $5,000, it sold for $5,490.

Royal Doulton jug

Q: Several years ago, I inherited a Royal Doulton jug called “The Cavalier.” There is a large letter “A” next to the Royal Doulton mark on the bottom. What does that mean?

A: From 1940 to 1960, Royal Doulton made “The Cavalier,” a character jug based on a painting called “The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals. More than one version was made. In the first version, the cavalier has a goatee. It was made in the large 7-inch size from 1940 to 1950, and it is rare.

A second version, without the goatee and with a ruff around his neck, was made in a small size (3 1/4-inch) beginning in 1941, and in a large size (7-inch) beginning in 1950. The “A” is a factory mark used between 1939 and 1955. According to a former employee, it was used to identify pieces that were made for export. The version without goatee sells for $12 to $20. The value of the rarer version with a goatee is estimated at $1,200 to $4,000.

Stereo cards

Q: I have a stereopticon marked “Pat’d September 28, 1897.” I also have 21 picture cards that go with it, including “The President & Mrs. McKinley, Twentieth Century Series.” The series includes several pictures taken in 1899. I’d like to know the value of these items.

A: The Whiting View Co. of Cincinnati published a series of stereo cards called “The Twentieth Century Series” around 1901. Stereo cards were made for viewing in stereoscopes.

People often confuse stereoscopes with stereopticons. Stereopticons, sometimes called magic lanterns, were first made about 1850. A stereopticon has two lenses and uses glass slides to project images. A stereoscope is a viewer for stereo cards that uses two images to produce a single three-dimensional picture. If you are viewing the image cards through your device, you have a stereoscope.

Stereoscopes were first made in 1838. Stereo cards were usually purchased by the set. A stereoscope with the patent date of Sept. 28, 1897, and five cards sold online for $125. Stereo cards alone sell for $10 to $25, depending on the subject. Your card set was popular, and many sets still exist.

Soap dish

Q: We inherited a dish from my husband’s family. I’ve been told it’s a shaving dish. My husband’s father was born in 1908, and his father in 1875. The dish is round, made of porcelain and decorated with pink and blue flowers and faded gold trim. It has a cover and an insert, a disk with a center hole surrounded by seven smaller holes. What can you tell me about the dish?

A: Your dish could have held a bar of shaving soap. In the late 1800s, water was heated in a kettle and poured over the soap and drained into the area below the disk with the holes. The shaving brush was dipped in the warm water, then rubbed against the soap to whip up hot soapy lather for a warm, wet, pleasant shave. You don’t mention a mark on the bottom of your dish, but Victorian soap dishes like yours sell for about $50. An identifiable mark may make it worth a bit more.

Cloudy stemware

Q: Is there any formula that will restore clarity to 30-year-old crystal stemware that has become cloudy?

A: Your water may be leaving a film that can be removed by using water softener. But the glasses are probably cloudy because hot water and detergents in the dishwasher slightly damage the polish on the glass and give the stemware the cloudy appearance. It is almost impossible to restore the original shine, although some glassware can be polished inside and out.

There is a trick that covers the problem of cloudy glass decanters and other glassware with lids or stoppers that are not being used to serve food. Pour some clear baby oil into the decanter, swish it around to cover the entire inside with a thin layer of oil. Pour out any excess and then close the bottle. It will sparkle as if it is new. But this treatment is a coverup, not a cure, and about once a year it has to be repeated. Watch out for this trick when you buy glass. There is no permanent cure for cloudy glass.

Examining table

Q: When my father moved into his house in 1957, he discovered that the previous owner, a physician, had left an old examining table. I think the table was old even then. It’s made of wood. One side of the tabletop can be lifted up to serve as a backrest, and there are stirrups that can be extended from the other end. A shelf is below the top, close to the floor. It is labeled, “W.D. Allison Co., Indianapolis, Ind.” Is the table of any value?

A: W.D. Allison Co. started out as G.H. Clark & Co. in 1882. Its name became W.D. Allison in 1893. The company became a large manufacturer of medical and dental chairs, tables, cabinets, bookcases, instrument tables and wheelchairs. Allison grew to have branches in New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco. Your table, if in good condition, could sell for a few hundred dollars.


Tip: Don’t eat off antique pewter plates. Some have a high lead content, and continuous use and scratches on the surface releases bits of poisonous lead. Also, avoid using pewter for food preparation. New pewter usually is safe, but be sure to check on the lead content.


Terry and Kim Kovel will answer as many letters from readers as possible through the column only. For return of a photograph, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope. Write to: The Kovels, c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. The website is

current prices

Prices are from shows nationwide.

“School & Home Cooking” book, hardcover, Greer, 1920, $5.

Mother-of-pearl glass vase, blue swirled body, bird, flowering branch, gold tracery, hexagonal, 8 3/4 inches, $170.

Reflector oven, tin, flared sides, meat hooks, applied handles, rotating lid, 11 by 7 inches, $325.

Maggie & Jiggs toy, “Bringing Up Father,” cigar, rolling pin, books, Schoenhut, 7 to 9 inches, $445.

Coronation program, Edward VII, six pages, June 1902, 7 1/2 by 4 3/4 inches, $510.

Crown Milano, bride’s basket, ivory, crimson, gold leaves, Pairpoint silver stand, marked, 12 inches, $575.

Skill game, coin-operated, Baseball, Play Ball, 1 cent, 18 1/2 inches, $840.

Captain’s chair, Windsor, mahogany, rounded crest, scrolled arms, spindles, 31 inches, pair, $920.

Cut-glass punch bowl, flashed hobstars, vesicas, notched prism bands, American Brilliant, Fry, 7 by 14 inches, $1,265.

Fish decoy, trout, wood, carved, painted, Oscar Peterson, Cadillac, Mich., 9 inches, $1,680.